Unemployment compensation benefits are supposed to be for people who involuntarily lose their jobs, even if only temporarily. Not here in West Virginia. Here, if you walk away from your workplace during a strike, you may be able to collect benefits.
It happened most recently to union workers at the Constellium aluminum rolling plant in Ravenswood. There, union workers went on strike Aug. 5 in a dispute over a new contract. It was not settled until Sept. 19.
Then, a new contract giving union workers at the plant annual pay raises of 2.5 percent, health insurance with no premiums paid by employees until 2017, and $7,500 signing bonuses was approved.
That wasn't enough for the United Steelworkers union local at the plant, however. Union officials sought unemployment compensation for more than 600 workers for the time they were off on strike.
Approved, ruled the state Labor Dispute Tribunal this week. Each of the workers may be able to collect $2,544 in benefits.
A state spokesman would say only that the benefits were approved "because there was not a work stoppage" at the plant because of the dispute. No more information about how the decision was reached will be released to the public.
Companies pay premiums to provide unemployment compensation insurance for their workers. The amounts are based on claims, so Constellium may have to pay an additional $1.5 million because of the state panel's ruling.
This is far from the first time striking workers have been awarded unemployment compensation benefits. Some union members consider them an entitlement, even if they are absent from work and not drawing paychecks by their own choice.
No wonder many companies are leery of opening new plants or other facilities in West Virginia, because of our state's labor relations climate. Unless and until state policies such as those governing unemployment compensation are changed, the Mountain State will continue to be passed over for many economic development opportunities.